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Confessions of a Campaign Volunteer Worker-Bee, Part 1

November 5th, 2012 (11:57 pm)

For most of the last nine hours, I have been walking the streets of Del Ray, my neighborhood in Alexandria. I have been knocking on doors; trying to slide, roll, or squeeze brochures into storm door openings, door handles, and door jambs so that they'll stay in place; and urging people to vote tomorrow. More importantly, to vote for the people I was canvassing for. I did three different canvasses for four different candidates today, and by now, I barely know where my own door is.

Have you ever wondered how all this works? Who are these people knocking on your door, armed with clipboards and campaign leaflets, where do they come from, and why won't they just leave you alone?

Here is your source for the inside story, straight from a campaign volunteer worker-bee.

P1070778 - Crop, 40%I arrived at noon at a home that was a neighborhood staging ground for President Obama's re-election campaign. The coordinators handed me a meticulously organized packet that included turf sheets with maps, walking routes, and pages of addresses arranged by street, with evens on one page and odds on the next, to make it easier to walk up one side of the street and down the other. This was a targeted list; the people on it were all likely Democratic voters who had a history of supporting the President.

I've done it many times before, so I was allowed to skip the training session today. I was canvassing in the immediate neighborhood of the neighborhood HQ today, so I set out on foot. (For Saturday's canvass, I drove to a precinct in the West End.) Both days, I had a script with questions and a form for recording answers. I had a tally sheet to use at the end, when it was time to add up the number of doors knocked on and the number of actual conversations started. Did I mention that whenever you canvass, most people aren't home or don't answer the door?

This canvass was not only for President Obama, but also for our excellent Senatorial candidate Tim Kaine. I was supposed to ask people not only if they support President Obama and former Governor Kaine and plan to vote, but what time they plan to vote, if they know where to go and how they're going to get there, and whether they need a ride to the polls.

I'm uncomfortable asking for that level of detail; I wouldn't blame people for feeling that it's none of my business. But I do it because it's part of the (volunteer) job, and because studies show that voters are 10% more likely to turn out at the polls if they actively think through their "voting plan" the day before, to visualize exactly when and how they will fit it into their day. I draw the line at some of the questions the organizers suggested I follow up with. For instance, I am not going to ask someone if they plan to set their alarm an hour early to make sure they get to the polls before work. For me, that seems to cross a line into shameless prying. Also, it sounds like something their mother would say.

On Saturday, I talked to actual people at about a quarter of the doors I knocked on. Today it was only about 10 percent, but that's because it was a weekday between noon and two.

Next, it was on to Alexandria Avenue, where I had to finish up my assigned territory for the Karen Graf School Board Campaign.